Columbus Day: a celebration of heroism, patriotism, and Italian and Latino pride

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/10/12/columbus-day-a-celebration-of-heroism-patriotism-and-italian-and-latino-pride/

Today most of the country celebrates Columbus Day: schools are closed and many communities will host parades in honor of Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator who set sail under the patronage of the Spanish crown in search of a Western route to Asia.

It is undisputed that Columbus’s arrival on Oct. 12, 1492, in what is now the Bahamas, forever changed the course of human events. And yet, across the country there is a growing movement to discard the holiday and to expunge Columbus from his honored place in history.

Just last week, caving to political pressure from various left-wing groups, Albuquerque, New Mexico joined a growing number of cities (including Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Berkley, California) that unilaterally have changed the name of the federal holiday honoring Columbus to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Some proponents of this change claim they are simply advocating for cultural recognition of native tribes that populated the Western Hemisphere long before the arrival of the Europeans. Others say they are protesting the “genocide” of native people at the hands of the Spanish.

In 2014, for example, Salon magazine called Columbus a “mascot for violent European colonialism.” Others have called him  “the first terrorist in the Americas.”

In painting Columbus as a one-dimensional bad guy, revisionists ignore the fact that Columbus was one of the greatest and most courageous mariners in history.

Such statements are reflective of the fashionable revisionist notion – popular today on college campuses and in our nation’s public schools — that Columbus was a barbarian/villain/murderer (select the epithet of your choice) who brought disease/slavery/environmental ruin to the “peaceful” indigenous peoples of the Americas.

To be sure, by all accounts,  Columbus was an arrogant, stubborn, and often erratic man.  And he and his men indeed treated the native people they encountered in ways that we would not approve today.

But, as Pope Francis recently cautioned in an address to Congress that was much heralded by the Left, we must not reflexively apply 21st-century morality to the those who lived in an earlier time. (Indeed, Pope Francis was in the United States, in part, to canonize Junipero Serra, an 18th century Spanish missionary whose work would not have been possible absent Columbus’s voyage 200 years earlier.)

In painting Columbus as a one-dimensional bad guy, revisionists ignore the fact that Columbus was one of the greatest and most courageous mariners in history — a visionary who defied the conventional wisdom of his time and, in so doing, changed the world forever. They ignore the facts that the Spanish explorers treated the natives more humanely than many of their European counterparts did; that during the 15th century slavery was practiced throughout the world (most notably, in Africa, Asia and the Arab world); and that many native tribes were far from peaceful (some desired war with the European explorers, others routinely practiced human sacrifice among their own people).

Boston's North End held its annual Columbus Day Parade on Sunday. (Joshua Schrock, NewBostonPost)

Boston’s North End held its annual Columbus Day Parade on Sunday. (Joshua Schrock, NewBostonPost)

Let’s be clear:  opposition to Columbus Day is more than just a movement to celebrate Native American heritage or to protest practices that violate 21st century standards of decency. It is also a vehicle for trashing Western civilization.

This was not always the case. Back in the 19th century, opposition to Columbus Day was found mostly among anti-immigrant groups who detested the holiday’s special significance to Catholics in general and Italians, in particular.

It was, after all, the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic and, for some time, largely Italian fraternal organization) that led the push for the creation of a federal holiday honoring the Admiral of the High Seas.  In 1932, after intense lobbying by the Knights, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 Columbus Day, making it a federal holiday.  More than forty years later, in 1976, Genoa-born Cristoforo Colombo remained so important to Italian Americans that President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the entire month of October (the month in which Columbus Day is celebrated) to be Italian Heritage Month. Today, for more than 17 million Italian Americans, Columbus remains a source of immense pride and an important symbol of the contributions that Italians have made to America.

In the 19th century, opposition to Columbus Day was found mostly among anti-immigrant groups who detested the holiday’s special significance to Catholics in general and Italians, in particular. 

Likewise, many of America’s 50 million Hispanics regard Columbus (or Cristobal Colon, as he is known in Spanish) as the patron saint, so to speak, of their own culture.  The Spanish colonization of lands discovered and claimed for Spain by Columbus and the explorers who followed sowed the seeds of a new culture – one that blended the Spanish language and Catholic faith with native and African traditions.  As a result, many Latinos celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the new world as “Dia de la Raza” (Day of the Race) or “Dia de la Hispanidad” (Day of the Hispanic).

Recognizing the importance of Columbus Day to Latinos (and so as not to let Italian Americans have all the fun), President Ronald Reagan in 1988 instituted national Hispanic Heritage month, which spans the dates of Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 — a time period that covers various Latin American independence day celebrations and culminates with Columbus Day festivities.

New York City’s Hispanic Day Parade celebrates Columbus Day as Dia de la Raza (a day to celebrate the Latino culture born form Spanish colonization of the new world.) Photo via Getty Images.

New York City’s Hispanic Day Parade celebrates Columbus Day as Dia de la Raza (a day to celebrate the Latino culture born form Spanish colonization of the new world.) Photo via Getty Images.

It for reasons of both cultural pride and good old fashioned American patriotism that millions flocked to New York City this weekend to celebrate the 51st annual Hispanic Day Parade on Sunday and the the 71st annual Columbus Day (Italian American) Parade today.  And it is why thousands came out in Boston on Sunday to watch the Columbus Day Parade in the North End.

Those who seek to denigrate the memory of Columbus would do well to remember that this day is a celebration not only of one man, but also of the immigrant experience in America and of the free and diverse society that resulted from European colonization of the West.

Jennifer C. Braceras is Editor of the NewBostonPost.

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